Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

5 thoughts

  1. “Indeed, I think this is likely the dominant moral stance of most people in most places at most times in human history.”
    But that’s warped and hypocritical. It’s ok to sell your dignity by working 9-5pm each day and thus it’s ok to basically sell your time. Time is all we really have so you are selling your life or at least a large chunk of it.
    Thus if you can sell large chunks of your life, why can’t you sell a physical chunk of it?

  2. I think that Kent’s argument above (“the poor are too disenfranchised to engage in truly ‘voluntary transactions'”) is also a major one, usually in concert with the dignity argument Will discusses. Uknowbetter’s counter is the natural response, but I suspect that Kent would counter that “employment is slavery, too” or some analog.
    One small problem I have with Kent’s argument is that he implies a two-way link between political corruption with market success (“if and only if”). From his perspective, Rich Person can only be rich by enslaving the poor in some political way (slavery lite). (Not to mention that he has no difficulty assuming that Rich Person has no motivations moral, social, or economic against cannibalism.) In my view, this is a zero sum perspective of economic health that can only be “solved” by universal poverty.
    An engagement with Kent’s perspective from mine (likely very close to Will’s and Bryan’s) would quickly revert to the standard socialism/progessivism vs. capitalism/free market argument. In other words, for those of us who don’t see any intrinsic immorality in free exchange, organ markets are a no brainer. For folks who see markets as intrinsically corrupt, organ markets are just another form of crypto-slavery, be it loss of dignity and/or loss of franchise, that must be prevented.

    1. But that’s not how *most* people see it. Lots of people have no particular problem with exchange in general, but don’t like exchange in organs. And they think the distinction is moral. They may not be able to give reasons for the distinction, but they could (rightly!) say we can have moral reasons without being able to defend them rationally. Even moral philosophers know this, because they give the fact that utilitarianism leads to conclusions that offend everyone’s intuitions as an argument against utilitarianism.

  3. I cannot recall the source, but I remember reading a famous, either economist or otherwise social theorist, who basically observed how readily we are discarding with very old and established traditions of human history with little forethought. I would classify monetizing human organs as something that has effects beyond the economic realm, verging on how we view the sanctity of life. I may readily assume that those in favor of liberalizing the organ trade will turn this around on me, and talk of the benefits that mankind may gain from such trade. What can I say? It creates a large incentive on promoting disability, i.e. the removal of organs. Forgive me the, admittedly unpopular in certain intellectual circles, slippery slope argument, but it also seems that once a culture loses its inviolable regard for human life, it tends to, to borrow a phrase, slouch towards Gomorrah. Call it instinct against reason, as I’m sure some will, but a market in organs emerging from otherwise healthy people strikes me as socially dangerous.

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